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AGA ALI SHAH, AGA KHAN II (1298-1302/1881-1885), 47TH IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Imam Aga Ali Shah, His Highness Aga Khan II was born in 1246/1830 at Mahallat, where he spent the first decade of his age. In the outset of 1256/1840, Imam Aga Ali Shah had been taken to Iraq, where he stayed a few years with his mother. Under the instruction of Iranian and Arab teachers, eminent for their piety and learning, he had been taught the oriental languages, and he achieved a reputation as an authority on Persian and Arabic literature, as a student of metaphysics and as an exponent of religious philosophy. He mostly spent his time at Baghdad and Karbala in hunting expeditions with the Iranian princes, notably in company with Zill al-Sultan, the eldest son of Shah Fateh Ali, who ruled for forty days in Iran.

During the late 1256/1840, the Qajarid regime allowed Imam Aga Ali Shah to take up temporary residence in Iran. His first marriage actualized with Marium Sultana in Iraq. From Karbala they had gone to Baghdad where they had a friendly meeting with Major Henry Rawlinson (1810-1895), the then British political agent in Turkish Arabia. He decided to take the family of Imam Hasan Ali Shah under his protection. Imam Aga Ali Shah and his mother Sarv-i Jahan Khanum (d. 1299/1882) and his wife Marium Sultana, reached Bombay in 1268/1852.

On succeeding to the Imamate in 1298/1881, Imam Aga Ali Shah maintained friendly relation with the British India that had been cemented by his father. He was granted the title of His Highness by the British government, which was officially informed to him by the then governor of Bombay on August 9, 1882.

The Qajarid king of Iran, Nasiruddin Shah (d. 1313/1896) had sent a message of condolence and sympathy to the Imam on the occasion of his father's death. Later, a robe of honour and the emblem of Iranian crown studded with diamonds were sent to the Imam as a sign of his relationship.

He was appointed to the Bombay Imperial Legislative Council from 1880 to 1885, when Sir James Fergusson (1808-1886) was the governor of Bombay. According to Naoroji M. Dumasia in The Aga Khan and his Ancestors (Bombay, 1939, p. 61), "The nomination to the Council in those days was a rare distinction bestowed only on men of outstanding ability and high social position." He discharged his responsibilities and onerous duties in a manner, which drew admiration of all. He was also the President of Mohammadan National Association at Bombay, and an honorary patron of the Western India Turf Club.

He was well concerned about the welfare of the Ismailis in India and spared no pains in raising the social status of his followers. Destitute members of the community received generous help from time to time at his hands. He also opened The Khoja Ismaili School at Bombay and elsewhere in 1882. It was perhaps a veritable beginning of a renaissance in Indian Ismaili community, whose tradition is continued till now in the world. He promoted educational and philanthropic institutions for the Indian Muslims with the cooperation of a certain Rahimtullah Muhammad Sayani, a most enlightened member of the community.

The Imam also generated his close contact with the Ismaili communities in Upper Oxus districts, Badakhshan, Samarkand, Burma and East Africa. The growing prosperity of the Ismailis and his own towering position, earned his prestige among the Muslim population of India.

The Imam used to visit interior Sind, notably in district Thatta. He liked the climate of Karachi, where he lived in Honeymoon Lodge. After his marriage with Lady Aly Shah in 1867, the Imam moved to Karachi most probably in 1871-72, where his son and successor was born in 1877. He also built a palace in Karachi at garden zone, known as pir'ji wadi (the fertile tract of the pir), which was converted to Aga Khan Gymkhana in 1940. The palace faced the park, then known as Government Garden, and later it came to be known as Gandhi Garden. He sought permission from Heavy Napier Bruce Erskine, the Commissioner in Sind (1879 to 1887) to build a gate of the park in 1882. The Imam bore its cost, where an existing plate indicates the donation of the space for the gate.

Like his father, the Imam was closely associated with the Nimatullahi Sufi order. Before going to India, he had generated close ties with Rahmat Ali Shah, the head of the Nimatullahis, who had been the guest of Imam Hasan Ali Shah in Mahallat in 1249/1833. Subsequently, the Imam maintained his relation with Rehmat Ali Shah (d. 1278/1861). He also tied relations with Munawwar Ali Shah (d. 1301/1884), the uncle and the successor of Rehmat Ali Shah. The Imam also entertained several notable Iranian Nimatullahis in Bombay, including Rehmat Ali's son, Muhammad Masum Shirazi, Naib al-Sadr (d. 1344/1926), the author of the Tara'iq al-Haqa'iq, who visited Bombay in 1298/1881 and stayed with the Imam for one year. Safi Ali Shah (d. 1316/1898), an eminent Nimatullahi also enjoyed the hospitality in 1280/1863.

The Imam wedded with Marium Sultana in Iraq, who died at Bombay after leaving behind two sons, Shihabuddin Shah (1268-1302/1851-1885) and Aga Nur Shah (1272-1302/1855-1885). These two sons had been brought up in Hasanabad at Bombay. Aga Nur Shah, aged 30 years, was a good sportsman. He once fell down from his horse while riding, and sustained serious injuries, which proved fatal, and his death took place three months before the death of his elder brother. The Imam appointed his elder son, Shihabuddin Shah as a pir on 1299/1882, who died at the age of 33 years on December 15, 1884.

The Imam's second wife belonged to a Shirazi family, and after her death, the third marriage was solemnized with Shamsul Mulk Lady Aly Shah.

The Imam was a skillful rider and great sportsman. He was very fond of hunting, but never made use of shelters in the hunting field for big game. Standing exposed to danger he took a sure and steady aim at wild animals. In this way he had bagged no less than forty tigers.

He died on Wednesday, August 17, 1885 of pneumonia contracted in a day's hunting near Poona. His body was brought to Bombay by train and shipped for interment in Najaf. Mukhi Kassim Musa (d. 1314/1896), the then estate agent, was entrusted its responsibilities from Bombay to Najaf.

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